Accountability on accountability - Paisley’s fate offers a good template

One of the ways you know that the phoney war that precedes every election is ending is that budget kite-flying begins to hint at largesse.

That is underway. Another is that politicians talk about accountability, or, more particularly, the absence of accountability.

This is done with an almost plausible sense of contrition.

Enda Kenny repeatedly assured anyone who would listen that he understood that accountability is a positive force we must harness.

He, and many others, championed the idea with an enthusiasm that suggested they accepted it is the yeast of democracy; that without embedding it in civic life, considerable potential is squandered.

Shoddy practice is facilitated. Those politicians’ crocodile tears have yet to flow in the current election cycle, but it cannot be too long before they do.

Yet nothing changes. Real accountability remains as elusive as a Norwegian-scale, pay-for-everything oil find off our coast.

Last week’s Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission’s report into the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder investigation was, among many things, a classic of the genre.

It found unacceptable failure and unexplainable circumstances — incredibly, gardaí lost a blood-stained gate — but it did not identify anyone whose role was at best questionable.

It was another example of the application of the Marie Celeste principle — something certainly happened, but no-one can say what or who was responsible.

Tragically, and corrosively, that same assessment applies to nearly all official investigations. Just weeks before the GSOC report, Tipperary TD, Michael Lowry, described his conviction on two tax offences as a “fantastic result”.

Mr Lowry, a persistent poll-topper, was restricted from operating as a company director for three years. He is constrained in business, but unfettered in politics. This may not be as strange as losing a gate, but it hardly enhances the credibility of our democracy.

Just before Mr Lowry’s “fantastic result”, Democratic Unionist, Ian Paisley, was suspended from the Commons, because he did not declare a gift of €55,000 of family holidays.

That, however, is not the end of the matter. He could be the first MP to lose his seat under sleaze legislation — the Recall of MPs Act, 2015 was enacted to enable constituents to force a by-election in cases of serious misconduct.

Should 10% of his electorate — 7,543 people — sign a petition, a by-election will be held. The ardent Brexiteer’s re-election is not guaranteed.

Just as Mr Paisley’s fate is in the hands of the electorate, so, too, is US president Donald Trump’s. Americans vote in November in mid-term elections.

The Republican majority in both houses may be threatened. A Democratic victory in either chamber might move the prospect of impeachment all the closer.

These options are not available to the Irish electorate and it’s time they were. If they were, that would end the need for the meaningless chest-beating about accountability.

However, the most powerful argument is simpler — if politics can’t be held to warts-and-all account, then how can any other arm of public life be?

This seems a perfect project for the Citizens’ Forum, especially as the turkeys won’t vote for Christmas.


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